I flew a plane!

I began my day by checking the weather:

KEMT 241445Z 00000KT 10SM CLR 27/03 A3000

The El Monte airport had zero wind, 10 miles of visibility, 27 C, and an altimeter setting of 30.00 inches Hg. Perfect conditions for my first flying lesson!

The lesson included two hours of pre-flight instruction and walking through the checklist you use to ensure that the plane is ready to fly safely, and one hour up in the sky. That time was dense with information, which I hope to retain by review and repetition (and scheduling my next lesson ASAP!). The plane was a Cessna Skyhawk 172.

What I got to do myself:

  • Follow the instructor around and take notes on the checklist as he demonstrated each check
  • Drag the plane out of its parking position onto a painted yellow line
  • Flip switches, set wing flaps, adjust throttle, etc. to ready the plane for taxi
  • Turn the switch to start the engine and watch the propeller spin up
  • Taxi the plane out to the run-up area using foot pedals to control direction and braking
  • Practice maintaining altitude, climbing, descending, turning
  • Final approach to landing
  • Push the plane back in to its parking spot, chain it down, etc.

The instructor was there the whole time, guiding and making minor corrections to help, and he would sometimes demonstrate controls by actively pushing pedals or steering and letting me feel what he was doing from my side, since the controls are tied together.

Some of this was straightforward, and some of it was rather challenging. For example, taxiing is done by steering a big vehicle with only your feet via rudder pedals, and it definitely takes some getting used to. You press right to go right, left to go left, and both forward with toe pressure to brake. Meanwhile, your hands are itching to grab onto the steering yoke, but that only manipulates the wings, so it only works while you’re in 3D motion (i.e., the air).

Once you’re up in the air, there’s also a complex interaction between where the nose is pointed (the pitch of the plane), the position of the yoke and the trim tab, the position of the rudder, the amount of throttle, and the speed of the plane. In a car, you press on the gas pedal to accelerate. In the plane, you have to manage all of these things simultaneously. I’m sure it all fits together as you gain experience, but it’s a lot to hold in your head at once while FLYING A FREAKING PLANE FOR THE FIRST TIME.

The biggest rush was when I got to do the takeoff. I pushed the throttle all the way in with my right hand, had my left hand lightly on the yoke, and worked the rudder with my foot pedals. This was the hardest steering challenge, because the plane naturally drifts to the left (due to the direction the propeller spins) and it seemed to me like the amount of compensation I needed changed as we accelerated. So because I have no experience, I was doing some oscillation and overcorrection trying to get us to stay straight on the line, meanwhile fighting off some mental ?!?!?s about why keeping the plane going straight would be that hard. And we’re accelerating, and eating up the runway, and the instructor told me to start pulling up, which I probably did a bit too gradually, but we had plenty of space. And I felt us go UP into the air, and we were there!

What I didn’t get to do yet:

  • Talk to the control tower and other planes
  • Land the plane

However, I did the final approach (with much coaching) all the way down to the ground, watching the runway grow in front of me, and thinking “Okay now, time for you to take over, isn’t it time for you to take over, I don’t know how to land this thing, PLEASE TAKE OVER NOW!” and that’s when he did.

At the end of the lesson, I was presented with a pilot’s log book and my first log entry (click to enlarge):


It takes a minimum of 40 hours to get your pilot’s license, but it’s based on demonstrating the necessary skills, not just logging time. Apparently most people take 50-60 hours, and certainly I’d rather have really solid skills since there’s no reason to rush. Still, I’m now 1/40th of the way to that minimum! And I can’t wait to get up there again!

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I knew this already. I learned something new!